Nintendo New 2DS XL review
Cut back in the right places, improved in others.
Six years since the 3DS first launched, Nintendo's New 2DS XL lets the handheld go out on a high. Forget the standard 2DS - a heavily stripped back version of the console released at a budget price - the 2DS XL is a very different beast. It includes almost all the features of the New 3DS XL, including its extra processing power and 256MB of RAM. You get the C-stick controls and ZL/ZR shoulder buttons as well, plus Amiibo NFC support. But as the name of the machine suggests, the obvious change is the complete removal of the auto-stereoscopic 3D display, and the head-tracking technology.
These cutbacks translate to a lower £130 price-tag, shaving a good £30-40 off the New 3DS XL, and making it less than half the price of a Nintendo Switch. For anyone itching to check out a huge catalogue of 3DS and DS games, and just aren't fussed about 3D, there's a lot to like - fundamentally, this is a well-built piece of kit. However, there are a couple of nitpicks too.
Nintendo could have stuck with its existing New 3DS XL design, but instead, the platform holder has made a number of changes. The New 2DS XL's processing power remains the same, but the exterior casing has been revamped. It's simplistic - as befits its price-point - again using mostly matte plastics for the body, and a redesigned hinge that lets both screens lay out evenly when snapped to the last position. The only criticism is that there's still a wobble to that top screen when moving around, with the hinge not quite as solid as it should have been - but that's a long-running problem with Nintendo's clamshell designs.
Otherwise, it's as robust a design as you'd expect from the 3DS line. And aesthetically, there's some nice touches too. A stylish striped texture runs across on top, wrapped around by a glossy coloured edge, turquoise in the case of our review unit. A drawback here is that there's no option for custom faceplates, supposing you don't like the default style.
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In terms of inputs and connections, the New 2DS XL retains all the features of its more expensive sibling. It feels much the same. You get the same clicky feedback of the d-pad and face buttons, and the unique circle pad makes a return as-is. In terms of inputs, everything's moved to the bottom edge here as well.
For once, the game cartridge slot now has a physical, plastic cover at the bottom that neighbours the microSD slot, which has a 4GB card already installed. Next, the stylus sits next to a 3.5mm headphone port, while a power button protrudes from the far right, alongside LEDs for power, charging and WiFi. Beyond that, the volume slider sits on the left flank of the unit, though of course, the 3D slider - which usually mirrors that - is missing on the right.
There's one very pleasant surprise with the New 2DS XL; it has a genuine advantage in terms of size and weight. Height-wise, it's about a centimetre smaller than the New 3DS XL, thanks to a new folding design that relocates the camera to the hinge, saving some room. It's not a big deal, but more impressive is the substantial weight reduction, down to 260g compared to its sibling's 329g, and the 398g of a Switch with Joycons attached. However, a snag to the redesign concerns the speakers: these move from either side of the top screen to the bottom edge, the side-effect being the openings can at times get muffled by your palms.
Going into this review, we were concerned that in order to bring the price-point down, Nintendo might have cut corners on the displays - beyond removing the 3D functionality. Thankfully, the screen is very close in quality to the New 3DS XL model; you get an effective 400x240 resolution up top, and 320x240 on the lower resistive touch screen.
The top screen stacks up nicely against other 3DS products: it's colourful and punchy. But of course, we've since been spoilt by the Switch's six-inch IPS panel, meaning there's a sense of regression going back to the 2DS XL. For one, viewing angles aren't great, there's ghosting on grey-to-grey transitions, and it just lacks the sheer brightness of Switch's display.
In fact it looks positively dull if you take it outside, even on max brightness. For perspective, we measured a peak brightness level of 147 nits on the 2DS XL, compared to 368 nits on Switch. It makes a big difference, but as long as you're not out in blazing sunlight, there's still plenty of contrast and punch to the screen in most gaming conditions. Our review unit seems to have a TN panel, but besides restrictive viewing angles, it's still a very strong-looking display.
Thankfully, there are no perceptible cutbacks to battery life, either. The official line from Nintendo is that the New 2DS XL gets a similar play-time to regular 3DS models; a range of three to five and half hours. We ramped up the brightness level to the maximum, left WiFi enabled and set volume to 75 per cent. Booting up Mario Kart 7, we clocked in three hours and 50 minutes of continuous play of the game before the power cut out. It's maybe a shame that stripping the extras from a 3DS doesn't qualify us for more battery life. As a stress-test though, the turnout is on par, or very slightly higher than the other models.
Nintendo's come a long way in refining its 3DS across the last six years. The fact is that there's now several ways to tap into its large games catalogue, and the New 2DS XL stands as one of the best options. Price is a factor of course, and ideally we'd always want everything in one package, with no compromise - but if you've got zero interest in ever using stereoscopic 3D, the argument for checking out the 2DS XL is much easier. There are even some unique advantages going this route. If you can get on with its design, you have all the functionality of a more expensive handheld, but in a noticeably lighter profile. Everything is thankfully included in the box too, from the charger to the 4GB SD card, so there's no skimping there, as we've seen in past.
Overall then, Nintendo's New 2DS XL offers a significant upgrade over the entry level 2DS in terms of build quality, processing power and form-factor - but with the bargain basement model available for just £75 these days, an extra £55 on top is a significantly higher level of investment. It sits as a midway point between 2DS and 3DS XL, in terms of both pricing and spec. From our perspective, we'd still opt for the New 3DS XL as the unit of choice - the front-facing speakers are preferable, and from time to time, it's interesting to see how titles use its 3D features. But there's no real deal-breaker for the New 2DS XL. As a way to complement the more expensive Switch, this is a respectable way to enjoy the 3DS' massive library of excellent software.
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